Friday, April 22, 2011

Formula One - The Season So Far.

The current F1 season has got itself off to a pretty impressive start so far with a genuine four way battle for the Championship which could easily become five way if the men at the Prancing Horse can give Fernando Alonso a car worthy of his talents.

Sebastien Vettel, building on his World Title won in the last race of the previous season was at his young but imperious best in the first two races leaving all trailing in his wake and asking serious questions about the pace of his rivals. Whilst race strategy played a large part, McLaren and Lewis Hamilton answered those questions emphatically in Shanghai taking a superb and well earned chequered flag.

Vettel has clearly drawn huge confidence from his maiden drivers' title and at the tender age of just twenty four will surely have more ahead of him although Hamilton and Alonso in particular may have something to say about that. There were times last season when Vettel looked particularly rattled and was guilty of poor judgement and in many respects Ferrari handed the title to him in the last race with their appalling race strategy for Alonso. Nevertheless the young German got over the finishing line and he will no doubt be much wiser for it, his talent and speed are not in question. This season again he looks the man to beat.

Alonso is a man who's career appears to be in limbo since his early double title winning exploits. His ill fated move to McLaren and subsequent return to Renault looked to have stymied his progress and after an initially bright start with the Scuderia he is now finding himself off the pace with machinery that is unable to challenge the Red Bull. There is reason to suggest that he remains the most complete driver on the starting grid - not many got the better of Schumacher at his peak - and it is now for the Ferrari engineers to do their part.

Whilst Vettel has clearly flourished after his Championship win, Mark Webber has seemingly lost traction. Much of his wonderful last season was tangled up with in fighting and politics within Red Bull and with Christian Horner in particular with Webber (justifiably it would appear) openly accusing his team of favouring Vettel. This season seemed to have reached a nadir when he failed to come through the first qualifying cut in Shanghai whilst Vettel punched out yet another pole position. Webber however is nothing if not a scrapper - and a mighty quick one at that - and he produced probably the drive of the season so far to take the final place on the podium after starting from 18th position on the grid. It may just be the drive to kick start his season although the suspicion must be that his advancing years mean the pressure to earn his own maiden Drivers' Championship may be a step too far.

Both drivers at McLaren have previously won the title meaning that there are four World Champions fighting for the title this year - we unfortunately can no longer include Schumacher as a credible contender - with Hamilton earning his superb victory in Shanghai. Button typically struggles in a car that is not perfectly set up so his consistent but unspectacular start to the season indicates McLaren have a pretty decent car which just requires a little more pace to genuinely challenge the Red Bull on a regular basis. Hamilton remains the ultimate competitor and whilst his aggressive style can be hard on his tyres there is little doubt that he is a master at getting the best out of a car that is not necessarily the best. Both drivers seem to have the full support of their team and with little apparent friction between the two, McLaren must have high hopes of securing yet another constructors' title this season.

Of the rest of the field, it is possibly a little harsh not to include Felipe Massa amongst the front runners but the hugely likeable Brazilian appears to have lost his edge since the horrendous head injury he previously sustained and it could be very possible that Ferrari will soon be lining up a replacement as No2 to Alonso.

Mercedes continue to struggle for genuine pace. Michael Schumacher has proved to be a classic case of 'you should never go back' and whilst his previous exploits leave him arguably as the greatest driver of the modern age - the debate versus Senna will forever rage - he is in real danger of tainting his legacy as he continues to drive around in the midfield, it is not how he should be remembered. Nico Rosberg however does look a real talent and a man in need of proper machinery. If Mercedes are unable to present him with that then a seat at either Red Bull or Ferrari next season might become an appealing option.

Vitaly Petrov continues to look genuinely quick in his Renault and one must hope that Nick Heidfeld  - a welcome returner to the starting grid - will find his feet again and push for more points. Paul Di Resta has made a decent start to his F1 career and we'll keep our fingers crossed that Lotus - one of the most famous names on the grid - can find a way to put a competitive package together for their drivers Truli and Kovalainen who are both capable of scoring points given the right car. This blog also wishes Robert Kubica a swift and full recovery from his appalling injuries.

The season itself as a spectacle has been pretty impressive so far with the combination of the new Pirelli tyres and the DRS wing system meaning that there has been a large - certainly by F1 standards - amount of overtaking so far this season and certainly no shortage of action. The FIA is constantly tinkering with the rules and regulations of F1 and by no means are all to the benefit of the spectacle. This season however the 'formula' appears to be working and for that reason it is very disappointing to hear plans to move to 1.6 litre four cylinder turbo units for 2013.

Whatever the reasons are for the proposed engine change, it smacks of change for changes' sake. The current V8s are providing great racing and just as importantly they sound fantastic. Whilst there was no doubt that F1 needed a serious round of cost cutting, this proposed engine change looks likely to increase cost and lets face it, for all the KERS technology and positive rhetoric, F1 is not a green sport, it is the antithesis of green and that is exactly why so many people love it. It is the pinnacle of motorsport and motorsport technology, ridiculously loud, expensive, fast and glamorous and that is unquestionably what it should remain - No Nonsense.