Singapore Snippets

Victory in Singapore gave Fernando Alonso his twenty-fifth F1 win (17 with Renault, four for both McLaren and Ferrari). This moves Alonso up to joint-sixth (with Jim Clark and Nicki Lauda) in the all-time winners list. It was also his twentieth pole-position, and his sixtieth podium. Additionally, although Alonso has four times before combined the win, pole, and fastest-lap, this was the first GP he did that triple plus leading every lap of the race, known unofficially as a grand slam. For Ferrari, it was the 214th win, 205th pole, 85th triple, and 40th grand slam.

(Top-five all-time winners:

1    Michael Schumacher    91
2    Alain Prost    51
3    Ayrton Senna    41
4    Nigel Mansell    31
5    Jackie Stewart    27

That is very depressing for me as the two drivers I have hated most in the thirty years since I started following Formula One are Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost.)

It was also Rubens Barrichello’s 300th Grand Prix. Congratulations, sir. Personally, I count the 1998 Belgium GP, when a massive pile-up caused the first start to be expunged, and Rubens did not make the second start, but not the two races in 2002 when his Ferrari broke down on the warm-up laps.

I have made it clear before that I do not count the Lotus Racing squad to be the same team statistically as the old Team Lotus, as the new team’s connection has been with Group Lotus. Team Lotus (the previous F1 team) and Group Lotus (car-maker, engineering, et cetera) were separate companies, albeit with many connections in Colin Chapman’s time, but went their separate ways after his death. Group Lotus is now owned (mostly) by Proton. Team Lotus went bust at the end of 1994, and was bought out of administration by David Hunt (younger brother of James Hunt), who spent years ineffectually trying to resurrect the team, renaming the company Team Lotus Ventures Ltd. As we all know, Proton/Group Lotus and Lotus Racing have fallen out. The Malaysia government own 42% of Proton, and I get the impression Proton had their arm twisted to licence the Lotus name grudgingly to Tony Fernandes’s F1 project, which arrangement Proton are cancelling for 2011. Lotus Racing have countered by buying (according to Autosport) Team Lotus Ventures Limited, effectively the remnants of the old team, and are planning to race as Team Lotus next season with the lineage to back that. Therefore I think I will give in and just lump the two Lotus teams together statistically, so belated congratulations on their 500th Formula One World Championship Grand Prix earlier this season at the European Grand Prix.

Proton have some ambitious plans to turn the Lotus car-maker into the ‘British’ Ferrari, pushing the brand heavily towards much more expensive models, which is worrying as Lotus’s heritage is affordable sports-cars (maybe not to you and me, but perhaps for 40-something businessmen to whom a Ferrari is out of reach), and whenever the company has forgotten that in the past, it has not gone well. So they seem determined to forge their own motor-sport stature, not only with their latest announcement of an LMP2 Le Mans car, but a link-up with ART Grand Prix in both GP2 and GP3. ART was one of the teams bidding to join as F1’s thirteenth team for next season, but withdrew before the selection process took place. Theoretically, if they make a successful bid in future, we could have two Lotus teams in Formula One, or indeed, Tony Fernandes could rebrand his AirAsia GP2 team, to be launched for 2011, resulting in two Lotus GP2 teams!

The first safety-car period early in the race after Liuzzi’s misfortune was a stupid decision. He parked his car in a place after the funny chicane that was both off the racing line and inside of any area that would be involved in any high-speed accident. It was just about feasible that a car spinning out of the chicane might just have gone that direction, perhaps after bouncing off the outside wall, but very unlikely, and hitting the stricken Force India instead of the wall would not have been much difference; in fact it might have provided better retardation. I suppose we should be grateful Race Control did not put out the safety-car right at the end for Kovalainen’s Lotus parked on the start-finish.

I saw Nicole Prescovia Elikolani Valiente Scherzinger interviewed on Martin Brundle’s grid-walk. I think she is a very fine-looking woman that personally, as long as it does not interrupt the action too much, I enjoy watching jumping up-and-down during races, but when she talks she sounds like Micky Mouse.

I thought Singapore was a cracking race (apart from the result). Webber’s early stop, muscling his way past Glock, Kobayashi, and Schumacher, provided super passing-for-position action, with more excitement when he almost hit the wall trying to hustle Barrichello. The strategy looked unlikely to succeed with the Australian on prime-tyres the track was not yet rubbered in enough to suit and looked to be bottlenecked behind Barrichello’s pace, the McLarens on their option-tyres increasing their gaps to the Australian towards a pit-stop’s advantage, but if a safety-car came out soon enough, the front-runners would stop and Webber would jump one or two Woking cars, and if not probably still finish fourth with nothing lost. However, the pendulum swung and the British drivers were losing lap-time as their tyres went off. I do not understand why McLaren left them out so long to lose more and more time to end up falling behind traffic behind Mark, but the SC caused by the Kobayashi-Schumacher clash cleared out the later-stoppers. The situation between Alonso and Vettel was also tense, with Fernando pushing very hard, Sebastian seeming able to keep up and conserve his car, but towards stop-time started to fall back a bit. It was a shame that situation fizzled out with both stopping on the same lap. The advantage of the new prime-tyres over old options went to whichever stopped first, but neither team wanted their man in to get stuck behind the slowing McLarens, although I do not see what Vettel had to lose. After the second safety-car, we had the thrilling battle for position between Hamilton and Webber, with a ‘Championship-acute very dramatic outcome. Things did quieten after that, until Kubica pitted and pushed his way past a few cars providing yet more overtaking excitement between those hard walls. Then at the end we had a spectacular fire, and Vettel on Alonso’s tail for a suspenseful finish.

I spent most the two hours riveted by the action, paying a lot of attention much of the time to the timing-screen, so what gets me is that after the race, reactions varied from those that agreed it was a very good race through to those that considered it OK to dull. I was stunned by one comment the gist of which was that at least it was better than Bahrain! I do wonder what people want. If some people were not mostly enthralled, it is not my place to tell them they do not have a right to decide how un-entertaining they found it, just as no one has the right to suggest I am misguided for how much I have enjoyed this season. The one thing I do question, politely if I can, is does the penchant for live-commenting or Tweeting during a race cause people to get less from the race than they otherwise might? Someone once said about watching boxing, “The harder I concentrate, the more I enjoy it.” Even during the more uneventful periods of the qualification and the race, I enjoyed watching closely the lines drivers were taking, looking out for those telltale twitches or hesitations out of a corner that showed how hard or not a driver was pushing (which Singapore with the walls close but not too close is especially suited for observing). I left the Sidepodcast comments open, but rarely looked at them and have commented about twice in the course of a race this season. I think the F1 community on the ‘net is brilliant, but I just can not help thinking that if people stopped social-networking and actually watched the races, that they might take more from them than reading, reacting and adding to the online-chat, with surely only part-attention at best on the sport itself. I know some or many will think these views are didactic rubbish, but if so please use the comments to argue why.

At Monza, I thought Hamilton’s race-ending incident to be down to him being just a bit too hot-headed after his anger at making the wrong F-duct decision for qualification, and questioned his stated intent to try even harder the rest of the season as trying too hard caused the accident. His move on Webber in Singapore was fantastic – almost. It seems fair to describe the outcome as a racing incident. Webber was in Hamilton’s blind spot when Lewis turned across the front of the Red Bull. Hamilton was risking 12 points against Webber and Alonso to gain six against the former and three against the latter, when maybe his best title-hope was to score wellish to well in the last five races and hope his rivals did not match that consistency. However, racing drivers can not be blamed for racing, and with Alonso looking so strong, perhaps only three races to follow, and with points to make up on Webber, the risk might have been justified. There is argument Mark should have been more reticent, as Lewis was a deal ahead at the corner, and the Australian could more afford to lose effectively six points to the Brit than risk losing all fifteen to Alonso, but he had already committed to braking when he did. Those two drivers do not back down for anyone in a fifty-fifty situation, so somewhat a case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Mark’s luck recently, pulling off several risky overtaking manoeuvres in Italy and Singapore without any mishap, and surviving in third to the finish with the tyre Hamilton hit on the edge of failing, has been blessed. It is almost as if all those years of so much bad karma were saving the good fortune for when he really needs it.

If not for the engine-situation, Alonso would have every reason to be uncharacteristically chipper after the last two races (and indeed has become downright smug). He had to use his engine very hard under the lights, so Korea going missing would help him with his engine allocation issues, but give him one less race to outscore Webber. Mark could probably use some help from his team-mate, but will be unlikely to get it with Vettel less than a win behind, but Suzuka, where Ferrari expect to struggle, should be a good chance to get more points over Alonso. McLaren need to be worried. The pattern this season was McLaren slower than RBR in qualification but more competitive in the race, whereas in Singapore, despite floor-flexibility rule-tightening, the team were out-paced by not just Red Bull but also Ferrari, with both drivers falling back in points badly in recent races. The interesting question is how many drivers might have a shout for the title at the last round?

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