Japan Snippets

In Japan, Vettel garnered his eighth win and 13th pole. He has taken six wins from pole-positions, his other two wins being from second and third on the grid. Six of his seven failures to win from pole happened this year. It was the thirteenth win for Red Bull from 104 races, but bearing in mind the team only won their first race in China last year, it is their 13th win in the last 31 races. It was the 128th win for a Renault-engined car. These are the top-five win-totals for engines.

1    Ferrari    215
2    Ford Cosworth    176
3    Renault    128
4    Mercedes    82
5    Honda    72

(See gpguide.com for full list)

There was a fair bit of action in Sunday’s race, and whilst I enjoyed watching the event, I am somehow surprised I did not enjoy it more. One suggestion I read was that it was marred by poor TV coverage, and although the live-editing was erratic at times, I do not think that was it. It certainly led to more screen-time for home-driver, Kobayashi, but his series of overtaking moves coincided to justify that, and provided much of the best of the afternoon; it is widely known that overtaking is just too difficult in Formula One, but it seems Kamui did not get that memo. The five ‘Championship contenders finished in the order they qualified in, with Button’s alternate tyre-strategy having no impact. We were denied Kubica’s part in the race action after his early retirement, or the opportunity to see Hamilton mix it with the Red Bulls and Alonso’s Ferrari by his gearbox-change grid-penalty, followed by his transmission issue in the race. With Massa out early and Rosberg’s retirement, the best-of-the-rest battle some way back from the big boys was not that inspiring. The points-gaps between the top-three were closed up by the result, but with one less race left on the season, so not a huge change in status quo; the McLaren pair were pushed further back in the points but it had already looked pessimistic for their chances before Suzuka. It was all a bit anti-climatic.

There are those who argue Nick Heidfeld has had his chance and is not especially deserving of a place in F1 but I disagree. As was once the case with Webber (who was dropped by Williams for not being good enough, although Patrick Head now concedes it might have been the car that was the problem), Heidi has never been in the right team at the right time, except once in Canada 2008, when team-ordered to let Kubica past to steal the win. This is a comparison of Nick’s performance against his F1 team-mates, with the year(s) and team, then his points on the left, the team-mate’s on the right.

2000   Prost   0 : 0   Alesi
2001   Sauber   12 : 9   Räikkönen
2002   Sauber   7 : 4   Massa
2002-3   Sauber   6 : 13   Frentzen
2004   Jordan   2 : 0   Pantano
2004   Jordan   1 : 2   Glock
2005   Williams   28 : 24   Webber
2006   BMW   13 : 7   Villeneuve
2006-9   BMW   150 : 137   Kubica
2007   BMW   0 : 1   Vettel
2010   Sauber   4 : 6   Kobayashi

It is fair to ignore Heidfeld being out-scored by Glock, Vettel, and Kobayashi as he has had them as team-mates for only one to three races. He was trounced by Frentzen in 2001, but has out-performed everyone else including Räikkönen, Villeneuve, Massa, Webber, and Kubica, who, with better opportunities, have collectively won two World Championships and forty-seven Grands Prix. He is also a driver that in the 2008 season overtook two drivers simultaneously not once but three times. Thus it was unfortunate news, issued even before quick Nick had had time to settle in with the team, that Sauber will be replacing him for 2011 with Mexican pay-driver, Mexican Sergio Perez. The reasons for the Swiss outfit recruiting Heidfeld were de la Rosa being disappointing and wanting a known-quantity driver to work out where the car is. With the scintillating but inconsistent Kobayashi partnered with an unproven rookie next season, heaven knows how they plan on evaluating the development programme if Pedro’s experience was unhelpful. For Nick, however well he does in the remaining races, it is difficult to see any opportunity for him unless Schumacher quits, Renault chose talent over money for the second seat, or he is willing to go to Force India, all of which look unlikely.

I looked at the circuit map for Korea with horror. Tilke has packed eighteen corners into the 3·5 mile (5·6 km) design. As you can see, fourteen of the turns are barely interrupted by any straights to speak of. With the bareness of the landscape, reconising one part of the track from another on TV will make the turns at Valencia look as individual as fingerprints; it might even be quite hard for drivers to remember where they are on the circuit. This sequence will of course spread out any cars that were close going into it. By the end of the start-finish, any minor ground that has been made up on a car in front will soon be lost in turns one and two, so it is very unlikely the longest straight that follows will be enough to slipstream to catch up by turn three, which anyway, by the look of the on-board footage from Chandhok’s run, is surprisingly narrow for a modern circuit, so will be easy to defend at. There only appears to be the one grandstand, on the start/finish, and we will find out if they can fill that. The grandiose plans include building a city around the circuit, so at least their optimism can not be faulted. There may be a good chance of a very lively weekend as with the tarmac so recently laid, as explained by Radio Five Live’s Anthony Davidson, the surface may still be emitting oils that will make the track very slippery indeed. Even in the sunshine, it could be a weekend for drivers that are good in the wet; if not careful, they may Korea off the track.

(If you have not already viewed it, have a look at the pictures from Korea in this post by Joe Saward.)

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