A REALLY bad decision  Unlike many commentators who have bellowed their dubious umbrage, I say bloody well done to the stewards in Austin. Handing Max a penalty that dropped him back behind Raikkonen was exactly what was required for Verstappen was not on the circuit at all when he passed Kimi on the final lap. Let’s understand the rule. After all it is really rather simple. You cannot leave the defined track and gain a lasting advantage. Not too hard to understand. Did Max leave the defined track? Yes. Did Max gain a lasting advantage? Yes. Therefore the rules were broken and the pass was disallowed as it should have been.


  For all the cretins howling in protest I ask this. If it had been Maradona using his hand to score a goal would you have said that it was OK because it was an aggressive move? Oh that’s right, we already know the answer to that one. Would it be fine for a goal to stand when the player was blatantly offside? Would it be acceptable today for a batsman to be given out to an enormous no-ball? How many fans scream with outrage when a try is scored from a forward pass or the player has stepped into touch. How did McEnroe react when he lost a point to a ball that was out of bounds? “You can’t be serious” Which is just what I say to all those, including Max, who have complained about the decision handed down by the officials in Texas. You simply cannot have it both ways. You cannot complain about referees making incorrect calls, most of which are split second, on the field judgements, and then bitch and vilify the referee when he makes the right call after viewing conclusive video evidence.


  As for the comments by those who really should know better, pull yer head back in guys. Niki Lauda’s comments are usually well worth heading as he doesn’t often speak bullshit, but the drivel he came out with that this “was the worst decision ever” by the stewards and that drivers should be able to drive on any surface they want because there shouldn’t be any track limits is incomprehensible. According to that theory a driver could just do donuts over the start finish line and win the race. No one would have to ever need to actually go through any of those wonderful curves at Austin, ah just straight line the lot of them, it’s OK. Bugger Eau Rouge, just drive back through the paddock and rejoin the track near the pit entry. Sorry Niki, the white lines define the track and as per the rules you are supposed to stay on it. As for it being the worst decision ever? Good Grief Charlie Brown.


  What about not slapping Vettel with any sort of real sanction for his appalling road rage in Baku? How about banning cars that were within the rules as written, such as the Lotus 88? What about Moseley fining McLaren $100,000,000 (yes all those zeros are correct) for bring the sport into disrepute after if was given some technical info about Ferrari? And then Moseley not copping any sanction after his little bout with the spanky girl in dubious attire? It does occur to me that the worst decisions in our sport were those that were not made. Not stripping Senna of the 1990 championship after he deliberately crashed into Prost at Suzuka, and don’t try to argue about it, Senna later admitted that it was deliberate. Not giving Schumacher any meaningful penalty when he tried to win the 1997 championship with a similar ploy against Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez. No race bans, no points stripped, just having his second place in the championship deleted. Talk about getting slapped on the wrist with a wet haddock. All that of course dates back to the day that Senna swerved across the track at Estoril almost forcing Prost, his team-mate at the time, into the pit wall. Had a decent penalty been handed down that day we wouldn’t have had the continuation of the unpunished thuggish behaviour that we have seen through Schumacher to Vettel being let off after causing the start-line accident in Singapore. Disallowing an illegal overtake to stand, sorry Niki, not even close to the worst decision ever.


  Hell, not even a bad one.


Sam Snape






Brendon Hartley testing the Mercedes in 2012  Rolling, rolling, rolling on the river goes the song although it was also apt for Friday in Suzuka as the heavens opened in time for practice two and the fastest racing was with paper boats down the pit-lane. And that big wheel did keep on turning as Jolyon Palmer joined Pascal in the spittoon with immediate effect. He will be replaced in Austin by Carlos Sainz who will be replaced at Toro Rosso by Daniil Kvyat, being sucked back up out of the spittoon (possibly only temporarily) while Dannii’s replacement, Pierre Gasly will be replaced by Brendon Hartley who had been in Red Bulls spittoon since 2011, as Pierre will be chasing Super Formula Championship glory in Suzuka. Got that? You, the spotty boy down the back picking your nose – have you been paying attention?


  So to re-cap. King Fernando will stay at McLaren because they are getting Renault engines because Renault are getting Carlos Sainz because Toro Rosso are getting Honda engines and Kvyat is being replaced by Gasly who is being replaced by Hartley because Palmer is being replaced by Sainz who is being replaced by Kvyat. There will be an exam on this last period Friday. Hartley, who had been Red Bulls and Toro Rosso’s reserve driver back in 2009-2010 before being dropped from their junior programme also tested for Mercedes in 2012 and has since solidified his reputation with an excellent few years with Porsche in the World Endurance Championship culminating in a World Championship victory in 2015 and a Le Mans win and probably the World Championship again this year. Brendon currently leads the WEC (along with co-drivers Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard) by 39 points from the lead Toyota entry of Nakajima, Davidson and, ironically former Toro Rosso driver, Sebastien Buemi with just 52 remaining from two rounds. Hartley will become the first Kiwi to race in a Grand Prix in 33 years, the last being Mike Thackwell in the lamentable RAM 01 Hart turbo in 1984. Considering the population size of New Zealand they have been exceptionally well represented in F1 over the years, especially in the 1960s. You had 1967 World Champion, Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren who at one point was the youngest ever Grand Prix winner (1959 US GP in a Cooper) before setting up one of F1’s greatest teams, Chris Amon, Ferrari team leader and 1969 Tasman Series Champion, Howden Ganley, BRM and Williams driver, Tony Shelly, Graham McRae, John Nicholson and Thackwell. Scott Dixon also tested for Williams before heading to the States to become one of Indycars all time greats. Not bad for a nation with a population the size of Sydney, just 0.06% of the world’s population.


  There is also a new game in town. It’s called Cyril Says. A bit like Simon Says except you have to figure out what will happen when-ever Cyril Abiteboul makes an announcement. For example when Cyril said that Robert Kubica’s first test was just a bit of fun and not a serious test to evaluate Robert for a 2018 drive it meant that they were going to test him again in a few weeks. When Cyril said that there were no plans for Kubica to test the current car after the Hungarian Grand Prix it meant that Palmer would not be driving the car and that Kubica would put in 142 laps and end up sixth quickest. When Cyril said that he had personally assured Palmer that he would remain in the Renault F1 seat for the remainder of the year, as per his contract, it meant that he was going to be sacked before the US Grand Prix so they could put Sainz in the seat. See where this is going? So I hear that Cyril has said that Palmer has Renault’s commitment to help him find a drive for next year. So what do you think this means for Jolyon? Answers on a post card please…


  It would seem that Ferrari should check the treads of the tyres on their trucks as it appears that they have (as per the old superstition) run over a Chinaman. They have left the Asian leg of the championship having shot themselves in both feet, ankles, shins calves and knees. For the entire season Vettel had lead the championship until Ferrari’s underperformance at Monza but still looked odds-on for a championship win. Then Vettel’s crassly stupid swerve took out both drivers in Singapore, both had turbo failures in Malaysia (Vettel started at the back of the grid and Raikkonen not at all) where Vettel managed to salvage fourth place only to retire in Japan from a spark plug failure in Suzuka while Kimi copped a grid penalty for changing a gearbox after stuffing it into the wall in practice and could manage just fifth place. I cannot remember the last time I had to write in Spark Plug as a reason for retirement, quite possibly not since the 1980’s. Mean-while Hamilton has taken two wins and a second to command the drivers title chase, while Mercedes with four podiums, including two wins and Red Bull, with five podiums (one win) have been feasting. Indeed Ferrari are now more in danger of loosing second place in the constructors championship to Red Bull than they are of catching Mercedes for the win. Come to think of it Ferrari didn’t do too well in China either so they must be hoping that they Asian curse doesn’t follow them to Austin.


  On the Kubica come-back topic, Robert completed what Williams described as a “successful” test at Silverstone in a 2014 FW36 but did not release any times or other details. We hear that he will be up against di Resta in a two-day test in Hungary this week in what is basically a shoot-out for next years seat along-side Lance Stroll. It is very likely that Felipe Massa will be retiring from Formula One, permanently, this time.


Sam Snape






Will Wehrlein stay on the Round-about by getting chumy with Vettel?  Ah it’s that time of year again. As Monza comes about so do the flashing lights of the magic round-about. Jason has bunged on his technicolour dreamcoat, Alice has noted that the days are getting longer in the Antipothies and for those trying to figure it all out the answer is 42, although the question is mired in a certain amount of obscurity. And then the Jabberwocky strikes. The great comeback story of the decade, Robert Kubica will replace Palmer at Renault in 2018. Errr – except that Carlos Sainz is being “lent” to Renault by Toro Rosso. Because another Spaniard (or Catalan – depending on how the revolutio…errr…referendum plays out) won’t stay at McLaren if they keep the Honda engines next year. King Fernando’s position is understandable as Honda haven’t produced a competent F1 engine since 1991. Or to put it another way, since King Fernando was a 10 year old Prince in waiting.

  So McLaren need to ditch Honda (and their $100 million) and find a new motor. Mercedes and Ferrari say no. So cap in hand to Renault who will not supply four teams but wouldn’t mind having Fernando back in front of one of their products and are getting jack of Red Bulls constant complaints so are open to a deal. Red Bull’s reserve grade squad, Toro Rosso, could use Honda’s dosh and hey, who knows, next years Honda might just work. But Toro Rosso have an engine contract with Renault, and Renault have wanted to have Carlos Sainz in their car for a year or two now (and are pissed with Red Bull – see above).


  So Fernando will stay at McLaren if it can have Renaults if Toro Rosso can have Hondas and all their yen if Renault can have Sainz (on loan of course) and Kubica can stick his Renault comeback chances far up his …well, you know. And so can Red Bull it seems for an engine supply by Renault from 2019 onwards. Which means that about this time next year Ricciardo and Verstappen will be vying for places at Mercedes and Ferrari and Red Bull will be promoting Gasly and Kvyat (???) to the top grade in Red Bull Hondas because unless Honda pull out a miracle, Sainz won’t be coming back from Renault for that combo, “loan” or not. And no other top line driver will want to join Red Bull that early and wait until the new engine regs in 2021 when they may have Aston Martins, or VWs, or Porsches. Or not.


  And now, the great comeback story of the decade. Robert Kubica will replace Felipe Massa at Williams. Or maybe Massa will stay. Or be replaced by Paul di Resta. You have to think though that; A) Kubica did a pretty decent job in testing the Renault at the Hungaroring and, B) Kubica would be a pretty good PR move for Martini. Although di Resta did a very good job on short notice for Williams in Hungary when Felipe got sick. And Felipe does want to stay, but only if he’s wanted. And Gasly replaces Kvyat it the Toro Rosso from Malaysia as Danii has scored far too few points this year and Leclerc looks likely to join Sauber so Wehrlein gets spat out the door. Will Ericsson join him in the spittoon and be replaced by Giovinazzi or will his backers remain firm and Antonio be reserving again? Who would end up at Toro Rosso in 2019? Will Ocon and Perez keep running into each other and therefore force a change at Force India? And so the Round-about keeps spinning, some jumping aboard, some hanging on for grim death and some being flung aside with gay abandon, as it always does. And your current interlocutor keeps grinning like the Cheshire Cat and may well just disappear straight up his own….well, you know.


Sam Snape






Robert Kubica takes a giant step in one of sports great come-backs  The issue that many suspected would arise as a result of the aerodynamic changes was manifestly on display at the Hungaroring. Apart from Ricciardo being nurfed out of the race by an extraordinarily clumsy Verstappen lunge the points for the Hungarian Grand Prix might as well have been awarded after qualifying, as so little overtaking was possible. 

  The only passing manoeuvres in the top six were the Mercedes duo swapping places a couple of times to see if Hamilton was better able than Bottas to make any impression on the Ferraris – which despite his greater pace he wasn’t – and then to give 3rd place back as per the earlier arrangement. The almost impossibility of overtaking was shown most starkly in that Kimi Raikkonen who’s Ferrari was healthy was not able to get close enough to Vettel to even have a lunge despite being vastly quicker due to a steering problem on the German’s car which saw him having to turn the wheel dramatically to the right to keep in a straight line for most of the race.

  Admittedly the problem has been somewhat less this year than expected at most circuits but at the tight and twisty Hungarian circuit the result was a tedious return to the early 90’s when the race was nothing more than a two hour procession and the real battle was fought out in qualifying. If you were quick enough to claim pole position in qualifying then you were just about guaranteed the race win. And in qualifying in Hungary it was even more important as to what car you drove than at most other circuits as most of the field lined up like the animals climbing into Noah’s arc. Two by two by two…you get the drift, even poor old Jolyon Palmer made it into the top ten. Bit of a pity for him he couldn’t maintain that place in the race as he really must now be spending more time looking over his shoulder than down the road at pole.

  And looming over his shoulder is the other Pole. The most interesting thing that occurred in Hungary this year happened three days after the race was completed. On Wednesday one of potentially the greatest sporting come-backs took another step forward when Robert Kubica drove a current Formula One car since his hideous Rallying accident in 2011. If you remember the grizzly details, not only had the Armco barrier speared into his chest but had all but severed his right arm. All of the years of operations and physical therapy and immense mental strength have finally allowed him to return to where he should have always been. And the result? Fourth fastest on the day and sixth overall in the Renault in which Palmer has been struggling so much.

  This fairytail began earlier this year when Robert tested the 2012 Lotus E20 at Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo circuit. It was said at the time that it was nothing more than Renault giving him a run in an old car so he could say to himself that he had made it back into a F1 car. Not a real test, just a bit of supportive fun for all concerned. Except he was quite a bit faster that official tester Sergey Sirotkin who had driven the same car the day before. Then very quietly there was another test in the Lotus at Paul Ricard. No times were given although there were now comments about evaluating Kubica’s fitness to assess if he was able to drive one of the current cars which are much more physically demanding. Time was also spent in the Red Bull simulator, of which not much was said by Christian Horner except that it was a Renault matter but that he was “impressed”.

  Then days before the race it was confirmed that Kubica would be replacing Palmer for the test. I’m thinking that Jolyon could hear the clanking of hammer on nails when he got this news. And it wasn’t as if the Pole took it easy on Wednesday. He completed 140 laps over eight hours, a distance of almost two Hungarian Grand Prixs and he set his quickest time late in the day when given a chance on the softer rubber. Kubica claims he was “not 100% satisfied” with the test which shows how much more he thinks he can still get out of himself, but I’m guessing that just about everyone else was completely happy with the way things turned out. Except perhaps poor Jolyon.

  So what odds on a Hulkenberg/Kubica pairing at Renault next year? A more promising line-up is hard to imagine and don’t forget, back when Kubica still had both arms, no less a driver that King Fernando claimed that the Pole was the fastest guy out there. So perhaps Robert will force Alonso to stay at McLaren after all.

Sam Snape







Vettel again beat the Silver Slings from behindSainz' uncharacteristic brain-fade did nothing for Stroll's fortunesOnce again King Fernando was superb despite the woefull Honda engineStar of the weekend - Charles Leclerc in the F2 race  So twice now from three races Sebastian Vettel has beaten the pole sitting Mercedes. A pattern is emerging that shows the Mercedes may still be the outright fastest car when everything is optimised for a low fuel qualifying blast but over a race distance, the Ferrari has the edge. Just as in Melbourne Vettel was able to sit on the tail of the leading Mercedes without suffering too much from the turbulence and once in front was able to pull out a comfortable lead which even Hamilton, at his charging best, was unable to cut into to any real degree.


  This time however, the pole sitting Mercedes was not Hamilton. Valtteri Bottas may have been a little underwhelming so far but his Q3 lap to claim pole was simply, well, scintillating. In Q2, Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel were all within 6/100ths of a second of each other with Hamilton shading Bottas by exactly 0.020 and Vettel 0.041 back. In Q3 the Silver slings were again just separated by 2/100ths, 0.023 to be exact but this time it Valtteri on top. To emphasize just how good a lap it was, Vettel had improved on his Q2 time by almost 4/10ths but was still a worrying half a second behind the flying Finn. Other star performers in qualifying this time were Jolyon Palmer, who finally got a clean run through the first two days and got his Renault into the top ten, albeit still three places behind team-mate Hulkenberg, and Pascal Wehrlein who lined up an impressive 13th on his return from injury in the Sauber, which is supposed to be the slowest car out there. The fact that he outpaced Esteban Ocon who beat him to the Force India drive must have been extra sweet.


  Unfortunately for Bottas a problem on the grid with a generator meant that his rear tyre pressure was too high as they set off and as a result he lacked rear grip through the first stint, The question this time is could he have pulled away from Vettel anyway as the Ferrari looked to be doing the leaders pace very, VERY, easily. In the end it may not have mattered as Bottas’ race pace after changing tyres was not on a par with either Vettel or Hamilton anyway and he dropped away to a fairly distant third place only just ahead of a recovering Raikkonen.


  Kimi had a shocker of a start dropping to seventh behind Massa but this started what was a pretty storming race from him. After a few practice lunges kimi outbreaked the Williams driver into turn one on lap seven and was closing quickly on Ricciardo for third (Vettel had already pitted and Verstappen retired with brake failure) when he pitted for fresh tyres on lap 12. As sometimes seems to happen to Raikkonen his stop coincided with Carlos Sainz having a brain-fade and plowing into the side of the unfortunate Lance Stroll after exiting the pits. Stroll must be starting to wonder just what he needs to do to finish a race as not one of his retirements can really be laid at his feet. This brought out the safety car and Kimi found himself now down in eighth place behind Felipe Massa, again…That battle was rejoined and on lap 24 Raikkonen replayed his earlier move at turn one and set off to haul in the large gap to Bottas, in the end falling just two seconds short.


  Quite probably though, the best of the race was at the other end of the field. The dice between Alonso, Kvyat, Palmer and Wehrlein was an absolute ripper with places changing multiple times per lap for a while. King Fernando was having another of those races where he has wrung the neck of his hobbled McLaren-Honda to make up the most unlikely places through the corners only to be gobbled up by the other squabbling trio down the straights. He described the power deficit of his Honda package as “quite impressive” and it showed. All too often he was overtaken by a car that had been anything up to 100 metres behind coming onto the start/finish straight. This often meant that the quartet would brawl their way through turns one to five swapping places and occasionally body-work in a very entertaining struggle for what would eventually become last place. There sometimes is simply no justice.


  Speaking of entertainment, if you can get to see Sunday’s Formula 2 sprint race, do so. Charles Leclerc started the reverse grid race in sixth but quickly moved into the lead of the 23 lap race and pulled out a six second lead before pitting to change tyres on lap 15. On exiting the pits he was 21 seconds off the lead and in 13th place and no-one in front of him was going to stop. By the end of lap 16 he had moved up one place and on lap 17 took another three places to be just out of the points in ninth. Lap 19 saw two more positions fall to the flying Monegasque as did lap 20 and 21. Leclerc was now in third place some three seconds back having made up ten places and 18 seconds in just six laps. Even that would have been good enough to report on but as they entered the start/finish straight to begin the final lap Charles was right on the tail of second placed Oliver Rowland and swept by into turn one. Three corners later leader Luca Ghiotto ran just a touch wide on his fading tyres and Leclerc was through to take one of the most astonishing victories I have seen in many years.


For full results go to;


Sam Snape






  McLaren have announced that King Fernando will skip the Monaco Grand Prix this year to drive at the Indianapolis 500 in a McLaren entered, Andretti Autosports run Dallara Honda. Alonso has described it as one of his dreams to emulate Graham Hill and win the “triple crown” on Monaco, Indy and Le Mans before he hangs up his helmet. He will be taking over the entry of Stefan Wilson, the brother of the late Justin Wilson, who had arranged a one-off drive with Andretti for the event. Apparently the idea began as a joke by Zak Brown before the season began but the thought fermented and an agreement was arrived at before practice in Shanghai last week. The deal with Andretti was then completed in just a couple of days with Wilson agreeing to pull out in Alonso’s favour.


   Alonso will not be the first champion to skip Monaco for a crack at the 500. Way back in 1952 Alberto Ascari took one of the previous years Ferrari 375s to the brickyard but that venture was a failure. In 1965 Jim Clark made the journey work and won the 500 in the beautiful purpose built Lotus 38. Both of these drivers went on to become that years F1 World Champion. I have a sneaking suspicion that Alonso will not emulate that fact this year.


  So who will replace King Fernando at Monaco. I guess Button, as the teams official reserve driver, is the obvious answer but the more you think about that the more unlikely it becomes. In his mind he has basically already retired. He has been doing little training, no actual testing and probably minimal simulator work. What would his motivation be? A one-off drive, while not in peak physical condition, with bugger-all chances of any decent result. Unless someone can be arranged to partake in the test session coming up just after the Bahrain GP beginning on Tuesday, whoever lands the drive will have minimal preparation, especially if it is their F1 debut. It will also need to be someone who is contractually available.


  There are a few recent F1 rejects that could step in. Felipe Nasr perhaps is the most likely of those. I can’t see Gutierrez or Haryanto getting a phone call anytime soon. Short of Lando Norris I don’t know that McLaren has anyone in junior categories that they can call on and Norris would not have the necessary licence in any case. I’m sure Honda would not mind giving Nobuharu Matsushita a chance but would McLaren go for that? So, someone unexpected that would generate some welcome positive publicity and be happy with a competent performance possibly?


  I have an idea that, although completely out of left field (to use another US sporting term), could tick all the boxes. Robert Kubica………..Think about it. What a great story that would generate and no-one would be talking about Honda’s woeful performance. He has the required licence. He has no current contract, as very conveniently he pulled out of his drive in the WEC with the ByKolles squad earlier this week. Coincidence??? Guaranteed competent performance. The demands of the current generation F1 car would not be too stressful around the streets of the principality so Kubica’s arm could probably deal with the strain. Even if he came dead last I’m sure that he, and all F1 fans would love such a moment, so Zak, and Liberty, please give it some thought.


Sam Snape


13-4 2017