Category Archives: Motorsport

Mark Webber’s last race – reflections

Just a few hours ago, Mark Alan Webber finished his final ever Formula 1 race, taking his Red Bull Racing RB9 to a second place finish at a circuit where he had twice won in 2009 and 2011. As a fan who has closely watched Webber’s career from 2009 to now (a late comer, I know!) it was sad to consider that his unique perspective would be out of the sport.

Webber, however, showed no such sentimentality but that’s to be expected. He’s always been driven of purpose and intent, and as he explained this weekend there’s a point at which age conspires to slow drivers down. Better to leave on a high than wallow at the back of the field, which Webber has done (he will join Porsche for the 2014 World Endurance Championship, driving LMP series cars at races like Le Mans 24hrs).

Webber was the first Australian since Alan Jones to score points in Formula 1, which also made him the first Australian to get on the podium (which he would do 42 times in total); take pole position (he would go on to take 13 poles in total, breaking Jones’ record), and win races (he won 9 in total in the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons). He lead the 2010 championship for a time and that was realistically the only shot he had at winning it – sadly for him, he’s been paired with Sebastian Vettel who is frankly in a class of his own in terms of raw speed, pace, and ability.

Much has been said and speculated about that partnership and I don’t think I can add anything here. I’d probably say that the perceptions of bias have some basis in reality but only a little – the rest of it is simply rivalry between fans of two competitive camps (“team Webber” and “team Vettel”). Suffice to say that for the perennially unlucky Mark Webber, reaching the peak of his form at the same time Vettel came into the sport and dominated is simply business as usual. Vettel is a generational talent.

For Webber, though, he seems to have recognised at least that Vettel is simply in a world of his own and beating him is a task nobody on the grid could have done. People say they want to see Alonso, Kimi or Hamilton in that car but the reality is Webber’s no slouch and he’s not been able to match that pace. It’s a fantasy that suggest the RB-chassis cars are somehow the main driver for results; they’re not. The drivers are.

In his last race, Webber stood on the podium along side what he called the best driving talent of his generation – Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Vettel. To end your F1 career in that company is nothing to be ashamed of. Looking back at 215 races, 40+ podium and wins at Monaco, Silverstone, the Nurburgring and Interlagos – you could only be proud. Look at your career as an ambassador for Australia in a sport that’s difficult for Australians to break into? That’s something more entirely. 

One thing is assured; I’ll be watching a lot more endurance racing next year.

Red Bull sister team, Scuderia Toro Rosso signs Russian driver Daniil Kyvat. Da, da.

A few years ago, Red Bull decided that their squillions of dollars could be spend on extreme sports, in a strategy designed to advertise the brand and recoup expenditure with more Red Bull money. Part of this decision included buying the failing Jaguar Racing Team and re-branding it as Red Bull Racing. Their first coup came when former McLaren driver and square-headed Scot David Coulthard signed for the team. Australian Mark Webber later joined it, and then DC was replaced by Sebastian Vettel in 2009 after DC retired… and in 2010 Red Bull won it’s first double constructor’s and driver’s titles. (Constructors is for the winning team).

Over the course of this, Red Bull has started a young driver academy, to create a stable of upcoming talent in lesser racing formulas that can one day be brought into F1.  Another way of achieving this is the sister team to Red Bull, Scuderia Toro Rosso – bought from the remnants of Minardi racing in 2006.

Toro Rosso was, at least in theory, going to prepare drivers for the senior (Red Bull) team and that was the mandate under which the scuderia operated. As I mentioned, Vettel made the move from STR to Red Bull for 2009 but no other drivers had followed suit – mostly because the other Red Bull driver, Mark Webber, wasn’t going anywhere and was a rock solid performer. In 2011, STR drivers Jaime Algesuari (SPA) and Sebastian Buemi (CH, or Switzerland if you prefer ;)) were both dropped in a fairly shock move, being replaced with French driver Jean-Eric Vergne and Australian Daniel Ricciardo. I blogged earlier about Ricciardo getting the Red Bull seat, almost proving that the STR -> Red Bull process works.

So, where does the young Russian Daniil Kyvat feature in this? Good question. There’s two things I want to cover. The first is “pay drivers”. Pay drivers are a common feature in F1 and are much what they sound like – drivers who get their seat because the team wants the sponsorship money they bring with it. Pastor Maldonado, of WilliamsF1, is a good example of this – yes, he won in Spain in 2012 but he tends to drive like it’s MarioKart and is basically an utter asshole from what I can see. But, the government of the thankfully-dead jerk Hugo Chavez, through state oil firm PVSDA, paid good sponsorship money so that Maldonado could wreck people’s races so he gets a seat. It tends to annoy a lot of drivers who are arguably more talented but less backed by big companies. Rightly or wrongly…

Red Bull, as I mentioned, have squillions of dollars so they can afford (pardon the pun) not to trawl for pay drivers and can promote talent to the sport. Previously, Antontio Felix da Costa had been rumoured for the seat (and I believe he has the same manager as Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, so rumours that Alonso was leaving Ferrari for Red Bull were probably based on Felix da Costa’s – and Alonso’s – manager meeting with Red Bull) but has endured a difficult season in Formula Renault 3.5 this year. Kyvat, by contrast, has done well simultaneously in GP3 and Formula 3 which is crucial as they are vastly different cars with different tyre compounds. Tyres are crucial in Formula 1 at the moment so no doubt this helped make the decision in the Russian’s favour.

It will be interesting to see if he delivers – so far, the only Russian in Formula 1 has been VItali Petrov and he was good but inconsistent. Between Kyvat and Sauber F1 prodigy Sergey Sirotkin in 2014 we have two hyped Russian drivers. Russia’s a target market for F1 so obviously the F1 powers-what-be will be happy.

Now, to get some American drivers…

Rush – a review of a Ron Howard film about a burn victim

So, I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog front of late due to illness which has sapped my energy and left me as indifferent as your average teenager. I’ve got a couple of topics to tackle (ooh, minor alliteration; fancy!) but the first is a review of the film Rush by Ron Howard.

Rush, if you weren’t aware, is a story framed around the 1976 Formula 1 season, in which Britain’s James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth), driving for McLaren, battled with Austrian Niki Lauda (an astonishingly accurate Daniel Brühl) in his Ferrari. The fulcrum point for this relationship was the German Grand Prix in August, at the (in)famous Nürburgring (about an hour’s north of Cologne/Köln). Back then, the race took place on the Nordschleife section of the track – previously nicknamed the Green Hell, it was a dangerous 22km long lap (most laps are 5km/h by comparison) with 150 odd turns compared to 16 or so these days. A nightmare of a circuit.

The results are history, of course – the weather was awful, Lauda wanted the race called off, was overruled, and suffered a terrible accident that saw his Ferrari 312 catch fire. He spent a minute trapped in the chassis and, despite a low prediction of survival, was back in the cockpit less than month later. His burns were substantial and you can still see clear evidence of it today, almost 40 years later.

The film starts with their Formula 3 rivalry being born at Watkins Glen and culminates after Hunt wins his first title (Lauda was defending champion from 1975) in Italy. The rivalry between Hunt and Lauda is sexed up for the cameras – the relationship was not nearly as antagonistic as the film makes out, but since it lends itself to an interesting and enjoyable narrative, we can forgive this. Hunt and Lauda are at polar opposites; Hunt, brimming with raw talent and pace, is a playboy whereas Lauda is mechanical, methodical, and consistent. The film nicely ends with a serious of stills and videos from 1976, showing Hunt alone and with Lauda, and it’s genuinely aching to hear Lauda say that despite their rivalries and Hunt’s flippancy, he genuinely liked him and misses him (Hunt died in 1993, aged 45, of a heart attack).

Being a Formula 1 fan, I was one of the converted masses who hadn’t seen good racing since 1971’s Le Mans with Steve McQueen. The last good F1 movie? 1966’s Grand Prix, starring James Garner, Graham Hill (!), Jack Brabham (!!), and Lucille from Arrested Development. If the film showed the sport respect, we’d be happy. And it did; it’s not always accurate, but it isn’t grossly inaccurate and for the intended audience – i.e. not F1 fans – it damn near perfect.

Which brings me to my point – how does this rate for people who aren’t into F1? If you’re on the fence about this film, go see it. It will give you characters you care about (genuinely, you will feel for Lauda, even when his bluntness works against him) and racing that will excite you whilst not overwhelming you. Hell, it might also give you some insight into why we’ll religiously watch a 2hr race at ridiculous hours of the night/morning. This is a Ron Howard film, the same Ron Howard who gave us Frost/Nixon, Cinderella Man or Apollo 13. It is shot beautifully, lovingly, and despite being self-funded, as professionally as any big studio picture. This is a Peter Morgan script, as tight as Frost/Nixon or the Queen. Hell, if Chris Hemsworth wandering around shirtless is enough to tempt you, go and be converted. You might just end up a Brühl fan too.

4.5/5 stars

 

Felipe Massa to exit Scuderia Ferrari for 2014; intends to stay in F1.

Today, Brazilian Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa stated his intend to quit the Scuderia Ferrari team for the 2014 season. He does not intend to quit Formula 1.

Massa came close to clinching the 2008 driver’s title, but lost in the closing seconds of the final race – his home race – to Lewis Hamilton. Massa had joined Ferrari from the Sauber team in 2006, where he replaced his friend and compatriot Rubens Barrichello as MIchael Schumacher’s teammate. The next year, Schumacher was jettisoned for Finnish driver Kimi Raikonnen, who had felt frustrated at the McLaren team’s reliability (which cost him wins, and championships). Raikonnen won that year.

In 2009, Massa suffered a severe head injury when a piece of suspension spring from Barichello’s BrawnGP car detached at Hungary. The piece pierced Massa’s helmet and Massa was hospitalised, lucky to have survived.

Massa never won a grand prix again.

There has been a lot of speculation about the second seat at Ferrari, due to Massa’s less than impressive form since his accident. Mark Webber was linked to the drive this year and instead remained with Red Bull – one can only wonder if the politics at Red Bull prompted him to exit and being at Ferrari with Fernando Alonso might have kept him around a bit longer. This year, Kimi Raikonnen is the main name being thrown around, as is Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg.

Kimi is a character, for those who don’t follow the sport. He seems to get along fine with the other drivers, as evidenced by the candid moments on camera in the driver’s debrief room post-race before they take to the podium. But he hates the media and politics of the sport and usually spouts the best one liners. Here’s an insight into his 2012 moments:

But, there’s issues with him going to Ferrari. Firstly, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemelo paid Kimi not to drive the car in 2010, which prompted a 2 year sabbatical in rallying. Secondly, Ferrari’s invested in a future with Fernando Alonso, who is widely regarded as the best driver racing today. His 2007 season at McLaren, with Lewis Hamilton, was deeply divisive and it created an impression Alonso doesn’t want another “#1 driver” at the scuderia.

Hulkenberg makes sense (though I’d like to see Scotland’s Paul di Resta, of the Force India team, get a decent drive) as a Ferrari driver. He can be groomed to lead when Alonso retires, and he might free up a seat at Sauber for Massa. The Sauber has underperformed this year but Hulkenberg continues to impress regardless.

Whatever comes of it, it’s worth noting Massa did have some great drives and will bow out as another out-and-out racer who never got the title (like Webber).

Infiniti Red Bull Racing confirm Daniel Ricciardo for 2014 drive

Following the departure of Mark Webber from the #2 seat at the front running Red Bull team, Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo was on a short list of contenders to replace him. His current drive is with Red Bull sister team, Scuderia Toro Rosso and STR has essentially been viewed as the stepping stone for new drivers to go to Red Bull.

Ricciardo’s promotion makes him the second driver to do this, following on from current three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Other contenders included Lotus Renault driver Kimi Raikonnen, himself a world champion (in 2007) and allegedly, Fernando Alonso (though this rumour was based on his manager being seen meeting with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner; Alonso’s manager also manages Carlos Sainz, a young Red Bull academy driver). Ricciardo’s French team-mate, Jean-Eric Vergne, was quickly discounted as a prospect for the seat.

This is good news for Formula 1, Australians in F1, and for Red Bull. Red Bull need to consider their long term options; Vettel’s contract is up at the end of 2014 and if he decides to move to another team (perception these days is that winning a title, let alone many, in one team is more about machine than man so Vettel will wish to remove any doubt), Red Bull need a driver who knows the team, the machinery, and can manage the transition. Red Bull also need to justify the money poured into their young driver program and Toro Rosso; at the end of 2011, two solid drivers in the form of Jaime Algesuari and Sebastian Buemi were ditched in favour of Ricciardo and Vergne.

For Formula 1, Webber’s seat was seen as a key to the driver market. I’ve never thought Alonso would leave Ferrari. Yes, he has a contract in place but so did Kimi in 2010 so that’s not as iron-clad as one might expect; but simply, I think we’re all expecting that Alonso will stop outdriving the machine and the machine will give him something to work with. An Alonso WDC title seems inevitable, especially now James Allison has joined Ferrari.

Similarly, Kimi leaving Lotus seems doubtful. For one, the level of sponsorship engagement seems perfect for him. The Finn doesn’t care for anything but the racing, so the occasional ad and no appearances is right up his alley. One can only imagine that he would have hated playing second fiddle to anyone.

So now we know there’s a vacant Toro Rosso seat for next year, and whilst it seems likely to go to Carlos Sainz it’s not a given yet. There might be some changes at Sauber, with the young Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin allegedly being fast-tracked in last year; and Massa’s future at Ferrari has to be unstable. If he goes, one imagines Nico Hulkenberg moving to Maranello to fill that seat.

I’m glad it’s settled; I have a Red Bull racing team shirt and with an Australian in the seat, there’s no reason for me to ditch the shirt or stop supporting the team!

Porsche – “Our mission for Le Mans 2014”

Porsche have launched a trailer about their return to LMP1 series enduring racing:

Missing from the video, but arguably crucial to their strategy, is the presence of Australian Formula 1 driver, Mark Webber. Webber announced his retirement from the front-running Infiniti Red Bull Racing team earlier this year, returning to Le Mans racing after more than a decade away and with a marque that carries so much history with it.

It must’ve been hard for Webber to give up Formula 1. Not that he’ll miss Vettel, but that’s fair…

I’m an F1 fan, and whilst I’ll try and catch live feeds of the 24 Heures le Mans race each year, I’m not really across the series that Le Mans is part of – the WEC (World Endurance Championship). Webber’s arrival will change that, as will Porsche’s return. This is, after, the marque that Steve McQueen’s character raced for in the excellent 1971 film Le Mans

“Racing’s important to men who do it well. When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.”