Photos: Nigel Mansell’s Museum

Way back in March I was very lucky enough to be invited to Woodbury Park near Exeter for some lunch, a round of golf (with mixed results as you can read here) – and to take a look at Nigel Mansell’s collection of memorabilia and cars in the museum which still, for now, resides at the leisure park and hotel complex he used to own. Indeed the Woodbury branding still contains his helmet colours and the golf flags are chequered!

The size of the collection is larger than the size of the musuem despite it filling three rooms and an entrance lobby.

One room barred any photography, the most impressive room –  the trophy room. An amazing collection of silverware both from his Formula 1 and CART/Indycar days, obviously everyone knows how successful he was in F1 and I knew he was successful in Indycar but I had no idea just how much until I saw a whole wall of trophies from the US! It includes his Indy 500 rings.
Mansell had it written into his first F1 contract that he must be given the original trophy for any wins – often the team will keep the original and might permit the driver to have a replica made. Perhaps he wasn’t expected to win so the team agreed.. and then he did win, and he kept the stipulation whenever he changed teams.

Viewing of the museum is by appointment only.

You can see more of my photos in my Picasa album. You can visit the Woodbury Park website here however they seem to have removed any mention of Mansell or his museum.

EDIT – It seems the collection is moving near to Mansell’s home in Jersey by the end of this year, listen to this interview with the BBC.

 

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Thoughts on the Indianapolis 500

The over-use of the slogan ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ and that some appear to take it as a pre-ordained fact rather than the marketing slogan it is, instead of looking at each race objectively, has been a personal pet peeve of mine for some time.

That was until this year’s edition started. This year the race very much lived up to the branding and showed me and others just why the place is revered the way it is. I’ll take some more of the same next year, please!

Working the Air

After the race I saw it tweeted that the DW12 is a keeper. Too right. It may not be the most advanced and it may not feature the chassis competition many of us crave, but really, what a car. Nobody cares that it is slower than the old one now. It races so well at Indy, and what’s more, it didn’t come out of the box that way. The teams have had a lot of work to do to solve a lot of problems it had on ovals – problems that have been overcome and resulted in the best Indy 500 I have seen in six years of watching, and some of the far more experienced veterans were saying it was one of the best they’d seen in years.

Even before the exceptional drama of the last 20 laps which really made this race so nail-biting there had been overtaking and lead changes and drafting and all sorts. Okay granted, some of it was ‘fake’ lead changes as the Ganassi pair – and others – fought not to lead in order to save fuel and not end up as a sitting duck on the next restart. I don’t have a problem with such ‘fake’ or ‘scripted’ passes as they are part and parcel of the strategy of oval racing. Ganassi executed this strategy better than anybody else, with some of the Andretti drivers doing pretty well with it in the early stages as well.

Engines

What a turn around by Honda, Ganassi and RLL. Surely some of those teams were sandbagging in free practice! Very cleverly played if that’s the case, nobody had a clue. I suspect this had more to do with work done by Honda for these race engines, perhaps teams were using older less developed units in practice and qualifying knowing they’d get a ‘special’ for the race. Honda do like their specials, the Japanese department always used to bring out an uprated engine for the Suzuka F1 race.

I loved the unexpected dymanic between the two engine manufacturers. Chevy had run all season with engines which were both more powerful and more fuel efficient than those from Honda. The double-whammy. Race day rolls around and suddenly Honda has a significant fuel efficiency advantage (I’m not sure about power, they seemed roughly equal but if one was ahead of the other it was the Honda), enough of an advantage to allow them to pit a lap, two laps, even three laps later than the Chevy teams.  That was the race-winning difference right there.

The third manufacturer had both entries embarrassingly black flagged barely 10 laps into the event, shockingly early and far earlier than I had expected. Alesi and de Silvestro were running lap averages in the 200-205mph bracket while the leaders were up at 215-218. The eventual fastest lap was 220+. By the numbers it was the right decision but I can’t help feeling they should’ve been allowed to run more than ten minutes. Of course the leaders were bearing down on them rapidly and perhaps the sight of two Lotuses trundling around whilst Chevys and Hondas blew by 15mph per lap faster would’ve been even more embarrassing than simply disappearing whilst eyes were elsewhere.

Highs and Lows

Takuma Sato. What a guy, what a drive. He was passing people all day and he’d been working his way up, picking people off, until the one that counted – the pass for the lead. If it hadn’t been the final lap he’d have made it. As it was I suspect the red mist descended as it often does with Taku and he made the instinctive move to pass when the space wasn’t quite there. Probably lulled into it after making it past Dixon last time around, perhaps forgetting Dixon had left more room because Dario had just gone by him too. Still – good on him for trying! It was the final lap, there were no guarantees he’d get a chance at turns 3 or 4, he had to take it. Classified 17th, first of those a lap down.

Tony Kanaan. That cheer when he took the lead! Such a popular driver, I wish he could’ve won it. The place would’ve erupted. I wondered where he was for a while, then he appeared working his way forward. He made the most of the restarts, perhaps unfairly perhaps not. 3rd is a good result but still he chases that elusive Indy win. In a Q&A last week one journalist said to him he was more famous for not winning at Indy than he would’ve been had he won. True words. I really hope he does win before he retires.

Very pleasing to see James Hinchcliffe run so well early on, I felt for him later after he slipped back. Hunter-Reay and Andretti were up there too and an Andretti Autosport win looked a good in-race bet. RHR hit a mechanical problem and Andretti got a hot head (again), leaving Hinch as their remaining bullet. It wasn’t to be this time and I seem to recall that was due to a slow pitstop, but also down to some of the restarts where the midfield swamped those up front.

Oriol Servia somehow made it up to 4th. I still don’t know how – he was well back in the pack and just appeared from nowhere within the last 5-10 laps! There’s a team and driver glad they switched from Lotus to Chevrolet.

Justin Wilson was running up there too and finished 7th, after the awful season he’s had that’s a well-earned result.

Rubens Barrichello. No doubts about him on an oval now. Solid, consistent, aggressive when needed but mostly drove a careful defensive race, the perfect way to approach a debut oval event. 11th is a very respectable performance in a field this stacked.

Townsend Bell. Once again taking a one-off IndyCar entry to a good finish at the 500. Once again we ask why he hasn’t got a full time IndyCar drive.

Ed Carpenter. A great run came to a sad end when he got too low, clipped the paint and the apron/transition and spun. Frustation for the owner/driver.

Every one of the teams and drivers had an interesting story to tell.

Coverage

I usually find a hooky feed of the US broadcast but this year I was able to ditch the dodgy feeds altogether and watch Sky Sports 4. This might have been an error. I didn’t mind that the program started at half past, the race isn’t as big a deal as it is in the US so I can understand not giving it the full hour of pre-race particularly when the other races on the schedule sometimes seemingly don’t get any more than 10-15 minutes.

I did mind that it started 2 or 3 minutes after the scheduled time because they were showing adverts. It looked like the preceding event (rugby) had run very slightly over and they still needed to fit in their commercial allocation. This meant we missed driver introductions – a little annoying but okay.
It soon became clear the UK coverage was going to stick with the London studio discussion rather than show the pre-race festivities, including driver intros, all of the songs and anthems, balloons, flyover, practically everything. Even Dan’s car was shown in replay. By then I thankfully had the dodgy stream up again so I saw what a great tribute that was.
Part of the whole appeal of Indy is the way the pre-race builds – it has taken six years of watching for me to realise this – and Sky just had no idea that it was important at all.

I commend Sky for having Tomas Scheckter in the studio, he brought the much-needed perspective of someone who has raced many times at Indy. Jonny Kane’s input is always worthwhile but ultimately he is an LMP driver not an IndyCar driver so there is only so much he can relate to – I wouldn’t ask Helio to analyse Le Mans!

The other good thing about Sky’s studio was that when the international ESPN feed went to commercials, some of the time Sky would take their own break but other times they’d cut back to the discussion in London. It was a nice way to sum up the action so far. I just wish they’d not talked all the way through pre-race!

On the whole though, Sky’s effort here has been completely shown up by their own coverage of Formula 1. It really could use just 10% of that magic to liven it up a bit.

The ABC/ESPN portion was good, better than usual. They were very late coming back to show restarts on a couple of occasions but at least they didn’t miss them! The commentary was okay, I didn’t find it grating at all which is a good result for Reid & Co for me. Everyone has their own tastes and usually they aren’t mine but I thought the trio did a good job this time. The pit reporting was mostly very good, the glaring omission being that of Will Power and Mike Conway after their clash, it was a long time before we heard from either team let alone drivers.The number of ad breaks didn’t seem anything like as poor as last year, either they were fewer or better timed, or Sky going to the studio masked how many there were. On the whole the US feed was a vastly improved broadcast compared to 2011. I also saw many, many tweets praising their pre-race features which Sky also missed, I intend to look those up later in the week.

Result

1. Franchitti – Ganassi – Honda
2. Dixon – Ganassi – Honda
3. Kanaan – KV – Chevy
4. Servia – Panther/DRR – Chevy
5. Briscoe – Penske – Chevy
6. Hinchcliffe – Andretti – Chevy
7. Wilson – Coyne – Honda
8. Kimball – Ganassi – Honda
9. Bell – Schmidt/Pelfrey – Honda
10. Castroneves – Penske – Chevy
11. Barrichello – KV – Chevy
12. Tagliani – BHA – Honda
13. Rahal – Ganassi – Honda
14. Hildebrand – Panther – Chevy
15. Jakes – Coyne – Honda
16. Pagenaud – Schmidt/Hamilton – Honda
17. Sato – Rahal Letterman Lanigan – Honda  +1 lap
18. Viso – KV – Chevy  +1 lap
19. Jourdain Jr – Rahal Letterman Lanigan – Honda  +1 lap
20. Bourdais – Dragon – Chevy  +1 lap
21. Carpenter – Carpenter – Chevy  +1 lap
22. Legge – Dragon – Chevy  +1 lap
23. Beatriz – Andretti/Conquest – Chevy  +10 laps
DNF: Andretti, Newgarden, Saavedra, Hunter-Reay, Power, Conway, Clauson, Cunningham, de Silvestro, Alesi

Points

200 – Power (3 wins)
164 – Castroneves (1)
164 – Hinchcliffe
153 – Dixon
143 – Hunter-Reay
136 – Franchitti (1)
136 – Pagenaud
128 – Briscoe
113 – Kanaan
103 – Hildebrand
102 – Barrichello
100 – Sato
99 – Servia
97 – Rahal
96 – Kimball
etc.

Next Race

Sunday June 3rd at 8.30pm BST (GMT+1) – Detroit Belle Isle, a narrow course running through a park with concrete walls and a bumpy street track. It is a bit like Montreal or Melbourne but without usually being as interesting as the track is too narrow and twisty, save for the fast backstraight. It has been a few years since the last race here, I hope the new cars and engines spice things up.

Thoughts on the Monaco Grand Prix

I love the Monaco Grand Prix. Always have.  The history, tradition, colour, spectacle and test of driver challenge are rivalled by no other race on the Formula 1 calendar and that includes the other classics at Monza, Spa and Silverstone. Despite this we all know it can produce processional races. Many people would prefer to drop Monaco completely because of this – I say no to that. I can put up with the odd procession because Monaco can, now and then, produce utter classics. It might have 50 laps of tedium out of the 78 but when something happens in Monaco it happens in a big way. Countless races in the past have taught us this. Not every year can be a classic and that’s why classics are remembered.

At least.. this is the theory I’ve subscribed to for years. With that being the case, why is it then that when a processional race rolled around this year I was so turned off by it? In the first 20-30 laps there was a lot of promise of action caused either by rain or tyre degradation and that held my attention, I was sitting there expectantly waiting the action that would surely follow. Has F1 been so good this year that a ‘traditional’ Monaco isn’t good enough any more?

Even if there wasn’t passing I expected to see attempts at passing, cars darting this way and that as the drivers tried to force their way by. Didn’t happen. Even when the pack condensed in the latter laps and we had six cars covered by just six seconds, none of them ever really seriously looked like trying to overtake the guy in front. That’s why it was boring. If I can see people attempting to pass but failing, that’s fine, that’s still racing, it just means the guy in front did a better job. To seemingly not even try… that’s no fun.

Holding Back

Why did this happen? Tyre preservation. The soft and supersoft tyres brought by Pirelli were being nursed by the drivers. Rather than go balls-to-the-wall in the quest for speed, burning up the tyres in the process, every one of the top runners was content to sit back in order to preserve the rubber to reduce the number of stops they would have to make. In all fairness I hadn’t clocked this until Sergio Perez, delayed after contact, pitted and emerged in 17th place nearly a lap behind the leaders, and with a clear track promptly set a Fastest Lap on yellow soft tyres a clear 1.5 seconds (and I have a feeling nearer 2 seconds) faster than the frontrunners were going – I have in my mind that these guys were on the faster red supersofts by this point but I could be wrong. According to the official FL list he was still 1.2sec faster than the nearest driver all race.

Okay, conservation is a valid way to win a race. We saw later in the day the Ganassi team won the Indy 500 by holding back to save fuel and tyres for the final run. Not a problem. Perhaps I expected this strategy to be run against someone else doing the opposite – running hot, burning up the tyres and pitting. Like the classic Senna v Mansell race here when Senna ran long and Mansell pitted, caught up, tried to pass… drama, intrigue, could he do it before his tyres go off too? We didn’t really see that.

Vettel and Hamilton tried. They went off-sequence with tyres which was interesting, even if it was a bit dull to see Vettel driving around by himself for a while. Perhaps we blame the TV crew here for not showing us more from the field. Once they slotted into the field I expected them to use the reds to fight past the cars around them. Again, it didn’t happen. Seems as though they pitted too early for the reds and had to conserve them – which begs the question, why do it? Surely the point of using that strategy was to make use of the extra grip. Don’t squander it by telling your guy to go slowly to nurse them.

Highs and Lows

Despite the boredom I was pleased Mark Webber took the win. I always like it when Webber wins, he’s a good guy and I’ve been a fan for ages. Good also to see Rosberg hitting form this season.

Alonso was 3rd, since he joined Twitter I’ve taken to him a lot more, he’s showing personality we arguably haven’t seen properly since his days in blue and yellow at Renault when he was the breath of fresh air ending Schumi’s reign. Since he’s effectively fighting the lone fight in a Ferrari which is not the class of the field he’s almost an underdog, which means it is okay to root for him too!

The alternate strategy only netted Vettel and Hamilton 4th and 5th. The result says Massa was 6th but I don’t remember seeing him. Force Indias took 7th and 8th, again largely missing from the screens.

Perhaps the real mystery was the whereabouts of Kimi Räikkönen. After running so well in Spain I really expected Kimi to run well here and even win it. The form was repeated on Thursday practice. Then Kimi started struggling for reasons not explained fully. Romain Grosjean qualified well but was taken out before turn one, frustratingtly as he also looked set for a good run. I still think one of them will win this year.

Bruno Senna took the final point in 10th, largely unseen by us. Perez made it to 11th by the flag but he was helped for three of those places when Button hit Kovalainen and Vergne made a stupid gamble to take intermediate wets (from inside the top 8!) when the track was still dry.

History

You absolutely have to watch this video found from British Pathe at Sidepodcast (via Joe Saward). Precious little footage exists from 1929 of the first ever Monaco Grand Prix, I certainly have never seen any before now. It is just under 2 minutes in length and is a must-see for any fan of the history of racing. You can tell even then it was almost impossible to overtake at this place!

Race Result

1. Webber – Red Bull
2. Rosberg – Mercedes
3. Alonso – Ferrari
4. Vettel – Red Bull
5. Hamilton – McLaren
6. Massa – Ferrari
7. di Resta – Force India
8. Hülkenberg – Force India
9. Räikkönen – Lotus
10. Senna – Williams
11. Perez – Sauber  +1 lap
12. Vergne – Toro Rosso +1 lap
13. Kovalainen – Caterham +1 lap
14. Glock – Marussia +1 lap
15. Karthikeyan – HRT +1 lap
16. Button – McLaren +8 laps
DNF:
Ricciardo, Pic, Schumacher, Petrov, Kobayashi, de la Rosa, Maldonado, Grosjean

Points

76 – Alonso (1 win)
73 – Vettel (1)
73 – Webber (1)
63 – Hamilton
59 – Rosberg (1)
51 – Räikkönen
45 – Button (1)
35 – Grosjean
29 – Maldonado (1)
22 – Perez
etc.

Red Bull drivers tied on points, Vettel breaks the tie on countback. Button is amazingly low in the standings considering the car he is driving.

146 – Red Bull
108 – McLaren
86 – Ferrari
86 – Lotus
61 – Mercedes
44 – Williams
41 – Sauber
28 – Force India
6 – Toro Rosso

Next Race

Canadian Grand Prix, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Ille Notre-Dame, Montreal.

Always a race worth watching as the circuit is heavy on brakes, and the walls and bumps catch the drivers out. Expect Safety Cars.

IndyCar’s Openers

I’ll be straight – I’d planned to write a short review of each race a day or two after it happened, say 800-1000 words of what I thought of the race – but I only managed to do that for round one! We’re at a natural break in the season now, so what better time than to review the opening tranche of races?

This post from F1 stalwart and IndyCar rookie Lukeh of Gridwalk Talk on his impressions of the series after the first four races [and I do recommend any long-time IndyCar fan stops right now to go away and read that] got me thinking about the trends we’ve seen since the season opener, who is doing well and who isn’t, whether the new cars and engines are any good, and so forth.

Tracks

Three of the opening rounds were held on street courses with just one on a permanent road course, and no ovals. In a year unusually focussed on road and street courses this actually helps us identify frontrunners for the rest of the season.

Some of these four tracks have picked up a reputation as being boring, notably Barber Motorsport Park. Happily they all seemed to race differently this year, in fact Barber was a real classic and one of the best IndyCar races in a while. Long Beach and Sao Paulo were entertaining as well, whilst I remain convinced St Pete was better than the broadcast made it out to be.

Whether due to car or engine or if the tyre specs have changed, we’re already seeing one of the better seasons in IndyCar racing. I’m even hopeful that Mid-Ohio and Sears Point will race better than they usually do. Then of course, we have all the intrigue of wondering how these new cars race on an oval!

Personally while I don’t mind the first four races being street or road courses, I feel uncomfortable that the first oval of the year is at the fastest, biggest track. I know they did it last year but I do feel it is appropriate to have a ‘warm-up’ oval race before Indy, a race some of the Indy one-off entries might be tempted to enter. That’s not just because we have new equipment, I think they should do it every year. Perhaps the solution is to add a 5th race in late April or early May, or commute the last of the opening 4 (whichever it is – it doesn’t have to be Sao Paulo) to an oval track and run the moved race later.

Chassis

We’ve seen the new Dallara DW12 races very well. It appears more driveable, more nimble, drivers seem to feel more at ease in placing the car where they want it on the racetrack. It can also take a few hits, something a lot of open wheel cars struggle with, I’d say this was down to the increased bulk inherent in designing a car to race on ovals, but then the previous IndyCar wasn’t as resilient as this (and it was pretty damned resilient!).

Notable areas include not just the rear protection but also the front wings which seem to be able to take a hefty punt before breaking, meaning teams aren’t wasting time changing wings.

I’m still not sold on the looks from some angles, yet from others it does look great and immediately dates the old car, as it rightly should. Just judging from TV coverage and still photos it seems to be the biggest single-seater I’ve ever seen, very bulky, too bulky.

Engines

Chevrolet undoubtedly have the early season advantage and it is a double-hit: somehow they’ve managed to get more power AND better fuel economy! With this in mind it is no surprise they’ve dominated the top ten at each race and qualifying session held so far. Both qualities are even more essential at Indy than the courses visited so far, I expect their teams to hold a distinct advantage at the 500, cautions and DNFs notwithstanding.

That said, Honda recently received a break from INDYCAR which could see them close the gap. In reality it isn’t a very big gap, the grid is so close though that a few tenths are enough to make the deficit seem huge with the number of positions lost. We may also see the Honda teams focus more on trimming out their cars which could level the playing field.

Lotus are as behind as we all expected. They were always going to be after their very late start. The off-season scare stories suggested they’d be 3 or 4 seconds behind. In reality they are at most 2 seconds down and most often less (I’ll need to run some numbers to check).
Two teams have moved away from Lotus after Sao Paulo – the official line being that Lotus ‘released’ them. It is very disappointing to see teams link up with a partner knowing the short-term deficits, only to walk away after a handful of races barely two months in to the season. Their decision? Don’t know. I suspect so because Lotus wouldn’t want the egg-on-face. If I were a Lotus team I’d take the hit now in the expectation the engines will be competitive next year. Of course if the whole Lotus empire does collapse these teams come out of it as the smart ones!

Surprises

The really pleasant surprise this year has been the mix of contenders in the top six or seven at each race. At long last, there are no guarantees that every race will see 3 Penskes and 2 Ganassis in the top 6!

Simon Pagenaud has been on it from the word go, underlining the raw speed and relentless metronomy we’ve already seen in his Acura/HPD and Peugeot sportscar drives. The man is a talent.

If bands have difficult second albums, racing drivers traditionally have difficult second years. James Hinchcliffe is having none of it: in a team in which drivers either sink or swim he’s routinely beaten both teammates and sits third in points. Remarkable.
That’s not to say his Andretti Autosport teammates are struggling – both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti have put in good drives and shown fighting spirit. RHR’s pace in Brazil was excellent and I particularly remember the way Marco drove at Barber. It seems streamlining back to 3 cars was the right move at least for the early season.

None of us can be surprised at the pace of Team Penske and of Will Power in particular – but who would’ve put money on Helio Castroneves being the other car up front? Not only that but winning the first race? Not me and I’m an Helio fan! Conversely, where is Ryan Briscoe?

Over at the other Big Team, Ganassi, not one of them are in the top five in points. That’s amazing. No surprises to see Scott Dixon up front for the team.. but a huge surprise to see Dario Franchitti struggle so much. I’d read of his difficulty adapting to the car but I didn’t have any idea it was this bad. Add in the trouble he’s had with the ECU and his championship defence is all but over already. That said, he’s put in some spirited recovery drives – I’ve no idea how he made up so many positions at both Barber and Sao Paulo. There’s also a lot of racing to be done.

JR Hildebrand and Panther Racing seem to have overcome any weakness the team had on road courses. Similarly, I was pleased to see Ed Carpenter at Sao Paulo was running similar lap times to competitors on similar tyres, after struggling so often it is great to see the oval specialist making real progress on other courses.

Josef Newgarden is very impressive in his rookie year, very fast and has his head screwed on. So much so that I forget he’s a rookie sometimes, only to be reminded so when he makes the errors that are inevitible in the first year in the big league.

Takuma Sato and EJ Viso have calmed down immensely. Sato is driving extremely well, he’s not crashing into things and the reasons he’s not been recording results were not of his making – it was great to see him rewarded with a podium in Brazil. As a measure of Viso’s progress, he finished as top KV runner in Brazil in a team containing Tony Kanaan and Rubens Barrichello – need I say more?

Rubens himself is adapting well. He did seem out of his depth in his first race but that’s understandable, completely different environment to what’s he has been used to. Then in the other three races he scored three top tens! I expect he’ll only get better on the other road courses. Up next though is Indy and a couple of other ovals, one of the big storylines of May and June will be how Rubens adapts to oval racing. TK seems to be struggling a little this year.. I’m sure he’ll work it out.

What’s happening with Justin Wilson? Can he still be struggling with the injury he picked up last year, despite the win at the Daytona 24 Hours? Perhaps he’s just not getting along with this car. He’s yet to finish higher than 10th this year.

Officialdom

Much improved over recent years. There’s a greater transparency and clarity, there’s a common-sense approach and willingness to listen to fans, teams and drivers alike. There are still calls I disagree with (e.g. incurring penalties after an engine failure in testing), thankfully the number of them is reducing to the sort of level you might say of any series. Starts and restarts look much better. And halleluyah, the ‘draw a line in the middle of the track’ rule is gone!

The Situation With Bahrain

I genuinely hope the positive reports emanating from the F1 crowd of a quiet Bahrain are true, and not because the population has been suppressed by local or Saudi or Pakistani security forces. Sadly that is not the picture emerging from at least some sections of the small country.

We’re being told via Twitter that teams and journos alike are seeing little action on the run from Manama to Sakhir and back save for the odd small fire (and obviously that Force India team incident the other day). However you can expect that road to be heavily protected by the authorities, indeed some journalists counted at least 70 police vehicles along the route.

The reports I’ve seen suggest they are mostly in out-of-the-way villages, journalists had to go and find them, which doesn’t make them any less important but it disproves the theory the country is in chaos. That they are taking place at all disproves the alternative theory that everything is just fine and dandy and nothing is going on. Some protests in the last couple of days have got a bit closer and there’s always a danger there will be a concerted effort to reach the track on race day. The flashpoint was always going to come when the cars took to the track, either on the now-traditional Friday ‘Day of Rage’ or on Sunday’s race day, or both. Thankfully Friday didn’t seem as bad as I feared it might’ve been, even with the sad fatality of a protestor (for whatever reason). I honestly expected worse than that.

Not knowing the specifics of the locality, although I’ve been trying to read up on it a lot in the past week (and indeed 12 months ago), I don’t know if these protests show a sample of a much broader picture. The protesters say the vast majority of the populace supports them. The government says the vast majority of the populace supports the race going ahead, though they have yet to claim the majority supports the government.  I tend to believe the protestors, I can easily believe more people support them than are willing to says so when the government is tear gassing them and firing rubber bullets, this being the same government which a year ago fired live rounds into a crowd armed only with flags, the same government which attacked a hospital.

If the dispute stays within these factions it would remain an internal matter, a desperately sad one with terrible acts committed by individuals on each side of the divide – the official forces have done some horrific things but the protestors are not as innocent as they may like to portray themselves either, the injuries to police show that. If it is self-defence against unprovoked attacks from forces then fine, I agree, do what you can to defend yourselves. But if not? Unacceptable. Regardless, it is a scenario which others shouldn’t be walking into.

It isn’t the fullscale rioting some media outlets are portraying, but neither is it safe, especially when you have a trigger-happy police and army force around. People who beat people to a pulp just because they’ve been arrested.

As a racing fan, my primary concern is the safety and security of the ‘travelling circus’ of F1, GP2 and Supercup teams, drivers and sports media personnel. Quite honestly, if I were a team owner and any single member of my staff were injured as a result of protest action or government response, no matter how indirectly, whether they were the intended target or not, I would take the FIA, FOM, Todt, Ecclestone and whomever else to the courts. There is no way any of them should be in the country right now.

As a private individual, I genuinely hope the Bahrainis work through their problems and in a peaceful manner. Further discussions should be held to progress reform.

After Tianenman Square China went through a long healing process and a period of opening up to the world, there are still huge problems but they are making progress and I am convinced the Olympics played a big part in that. There is the chance the Grand Prix could do something similar for Bahrain and the government seems to be banking on that – but this is much too early. Bahrain has not had that healing period. Another 12 months should pass before a Grand Prix should be held. Sadly it is too late for that now, this race is going to go ahead. I fear for potential lives lost tomorrow.

Positive Thinking

The protest movement is already doing well out of this. The government looks weak, foolish and stupid. Sadly, so does F1 and more specifically Bernie Eccelstone, Jean Todt and the FIA. The teams can (just about) get away with saying they are contracted to be there and would lose millions, potentially their entry to the Championship and thus their jobs, they have no choice.

They protestors now have the eyes of the world upon them. Everyone knows their cause. They have been silenced in the world media by Syria and before it Libya. Now they are front and centre on the world stage – this would not have happened without Formula 1. For better, for worse. They will continue to make the rulers of Bahrain look foolish and careless. This despite the best efforts of Bahrain Government to stop independent news reporters visiting the country.

I am glad some of the F1 contingent remembered they are journalists first and foremost and not press release recyclers, and went out to look for the protests themselves. It was a dangerous move. It paid off.

Will I watch the race? Probably. My feeling is if some protest happens during the race I will be more informed if I watch it rather than if I read about it later. I will better be able to form my own opinions and conclusions. I don’t feel comfortable though and I am fully expecting to switch off – or not switch on at all.

I don’t know that I’ll be paying very close attention to tyre strategies and positions through the field. I may be too busy looking at the corners of TV pictures to see if the cameraman/director is trying to crop something out, the way they do at quiet events when they try to avoid showing empty grandstands.

If I do watch I may elect to withold my usual Twitter interaction and opinion unless a protest does take place, or I may make it exclusively about the situation rather than anything in sporting terms. In terms of racing and sport I am honestly more interested in the London Marathon than I am the result of this Bahrain GP. Even if it does take place in the most exciting F1 season we’ve seen in years.

 

F1 Reaction: Chinese GP 2012

What a brilliant race! It had passing, big groups of cars in battles, strategy calls and tyre changes throughout including a mid-race strategy change from 3 stops to 2 for many, and a popular first-time winner for a marque which hadn’t won outright for over 5 decades – even if the team itself had only gone winless for the 3 years since the season as Brawn GP.

There was enough action to forget the margin of victory, which normally would’ve led to cries of boredom from the peanut gallery. For this race such cries only came from those who only watch racing to see who wins, those who don’t care for the twenty other stories which happen in any race and would still find a reason to complain even if they’d just seen the best race in the world.

This wasn’t the best race in the world, but by F1 standards it was a cracker and by the standards of most other series it was pretty good too.

Runaway Success

Nico Rosberg didn’t win this race through chance. He put in a race-winning drive all day, the strategy was perfect and for once this year the car didn’t let him down, didn’t drop him into the pack as the tyres wore out. I’m not sure what Mercedes GP found since Sepang, both cars were competitive and it was only a pitstop mistake which forced Michael Schumacher to retire. Could it be that the Mercedes team will be the one to challenge McLaren for race wins for the rest of the season?

The Mercedes W03 works its tyres harder than other cars, at least up until now. It meant they were good for one-lap pace (great for qualifying) but ate the tyres much sooner than the opposition (useless in the race). Either the conditions in Shanghai suited them and worked against the other teams, or the team has found a solution to the problem and are a very credible contender for further race wins this year. If the former is true it could explain why Ferrari were slow – perhaps they car works better in different temperatures to the Mercs and that hurt them as compared to Malaysia.

Competition

Had Jenson Button’s pitstop not gone awry he would’ve been much closer to Rosberg at the flag – perhaps not enough to challenge outright, just enough that the race didn’t seem like the complete whitewash it will appear in the record books. The McLarens were fast throughout and were able to pass

The race for 2nd place was so closely balanced, even though some cars were faster than others their strategies meant some were conserving tyres and some were going all out. It was clear Alonso’s late stop was planned for two reasons: to use fresher rubber to make passes, and to cover the early two-stoppers whose tyres should’ve fallen off with a lap or two to go – as it was he didn’t have the top end speed for the former, and the latter only happened to Kimi Raikkonen despite potentially affecting several others.

The season-long battle between Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus is fascinating, it seems each are better in different temperature conditions and each uses tyres differently. Each are also throwing upgrades at the cars all the time. Sadly it isn’t the fight for the championship but it is closely poised and could go in any direction!

Red Bull’s fall from recent grace is an oddity, and I wouldn’t put it past them to return to race winning form by midseason. Mercedes could just as easily sink back down as win another race, so unpredictable. Ferrari are all over the shop. Lotus seems a smidge behind on race pace but don’t count them out at all. What’s more, Williams is only a little way behind this group now.

It’s great to see both the team from Enstone and the team from Grove regularly in the points again. Raikkonen is feisty but his tyres fell off just slightly too early for him. Maybe the best thing about Lotus so far is the way Grosjean has been going, okay not his finishing record which has been awful, but he’s been fast and racy and that’s what we like to see. At last he was rewarded with a good points finish.

Sauber returned to their normal level as we mostly expected. Force India seems to have turned as invisible as Felipe Massa, I really don’t remember anything from their recent races apart from Paul di Resta’s helmet camera. See also Toro Rosso and Caterham.

Result

Chinese GP
Jiading, Shanghai, China

1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes W03 Mercedes
2 Jenson Button McLaren MP4-27 Mercedes
3 Lewis Hamilton McLaren MP4-27 Mercedes
4 Mark Webber Red Bull RB8 Renault
5 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull RB8 Renault
6 Romain Grosjean Lotus E20 Renault
7 Bruno Senna Williams FW34 Renault
8 Pastor Maldonado Williams FW34 Renault

Not a Ferrari engine in sight! What a contrast to the 1-2 at Sepang. Norbert Haug looked very pleased on the podium not only with the win but also a top three for his engines!

I think the improvement of Williams is in no small part down to the switch to Renault, much as Caterham’s was when they caught the main field.

Drivers Championship

1 Lewis Hamilton 45
2 Jenson Button 43
3 Fernando Alonso 37
4 Mark Webber 36
5 Sebastian Vettel 28
6 Nico Rosberg 25
7 Sergio Perez 22
8 Kimi Raikkonen 16

Hamilton holds the lead with a run of three straight 3rds, which beats Button’s 1st, 2nd and DNF. It looks as though the McLaren drivers are the ones to beat in the championship this year at this early stage.

The only drivers not yet to register a top ten points finish are those from Caterham, Marussia and HRT….. and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. This can’t in any way be an acceptable position for the Scuderia.

Constructors Championship

1 McLaren 88
2 Red Bull 64
3 Ferrari 37
4 Sauber 31
5 Mercedes 26
6 Lotus 24
7 Williams 18
8 Force India 9

McLaren hold the early advantage, Red Bull aren’t far away but they will need to work on their race pace or hope for unreliability among the silver cars. I expect the fight for 3rd to be between Ferrari and Mercedes.

Next Event

This weekend: Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Bahrain

I’ll be writing further thoughts on Bahrain tomorrow.

Thoughts After Attending Brands Hatch BTCC

Until the other week I hadn’t been to a BTCC round since Silverstone in 2008 (where did the time go?) which ended a 6-year run of visiting at least one round per year, at various circuits including Thruxton, Donington Park and even Knockhill. I hadn’t been to Brands Hatch since 2005’s A1GP meeting. It was time to revisit both.

In this post I’ll focus on my thoughts, for photos from the day please see my previous post or my gallery on Picasa.

Trackside

Isn’t it great to be trackside? Especially so when not long out of winter, having been stuck indoors for most of it, and you’ve got your nose up against the fence on a warm, cloudless spring day as cars race by at 140mph or more. Just perfect.

Perhaps it felt all the more sweeter after a 3-hour drive to the track. I was glad to find the entrance fed me directly to the spectator bank overlooking the pits so I didn’t need to spend time finding somewhere to watch, where I arrived as the BTCC was on the grid for race 1 of 3. However once the race began I quickly found I didn’t like it there as the fences (and the people) obscured the racing going on up at Paddock Hill or back at Clearways. Cars flashing past is great but I came here to see racing. It was great to get so close to the grid and it would be an ideal place to watch a race with pitstops as you can see right into pitlane – but touring car racing doesn’t have any stops so it was time to move!

I watched the rest of the race from Clearways. In 2005 I was lucky enough to be in the big hospitality building here which offered a great view. I was surprised to find it was almost as good at ground level, with the added bonus that this time I was watching a race on the Indy loop. There was some great side-by-side action here as you’d expect. Even doughnuts from Rob Collard… for which he was later penalised. An American sanctioning body would celebrate it.. a UK/European body awards a penalty. Idiots!

After lunch I went around to Paddock Hill Bend. I was surprised at how little room there is to watch – there’s an earth bank which suddenly drops away to a path. People were perched on the edge of it, I went up there and couldn’t see well over the people. Scratch that idea.

I found the absolute ideal spot was just where the tree line begins on the uphill approaching Druids. An unobstructed view of Paddock Hill Bend (as unobstructed as can be with this many people around), very fast cars very close to you just as they get off the gas and on to the brakes, and a nice view across to Graham Bill Bend to boot. Trees nearby to shelter under if the sun gets too hot or if it rains. Perfect.

I watched BTCC Race 2 and a few supports from here, and after a walk in the support paddock I came back for BTCC Race 3. This is one of my new favourite places in racing. I would consider the nearby grandstand if only to get above the heads of other people, but I don’t think I really missed anything. The only thing I lacked was a view to the left of me, or ‘downstream’ on the track, so I couldn’t see Druids corner or the 7-car shunt caused by oil on the track. Of course, you can never see everything unless you’re at an oval, and I did see Jackson run through the gravel right in front of me as he laid that oil.

The one thing I didn’t do all day was get a pass for the BTCC paddock. The support paddock was freely accessible and I saw Nicolas Hamilton signing autographs there. I did slightly miss getting up close to the BTCC cars and drIvers too, however I was too busy enjoying myself trackside!

Food

The lunch break fell after BTCC race 1. It was then I, as expected, found racetrack food prices to be as high as ever. £8 for the burger and chips I wanted. I settled for a sausage roll for £3. I will say the food selection at most UK racetracks is immeasurably better than it was 10 years ago, commendably so because it often used to be dire, but now they all stick the word ‘premium’ or ‘quality’ on the van and jack up the price. They were selling hot Cornish pasties for a fiver. I can get a hot one 500 yards from my house for less than that and they pay all the costs of renting a shop not a trailer! The price for being a captive audience and not wanting a squashed sandwich from a hot rucksack.

Chrome Horn

The BTCC has long had a poor reputation as a championship which not only rewards the use of the ‘chrome horn’ but encourages it. Everyone loves a bit of doorhandle to doorhandle racing, that’s a part of this type of racing and long may it continue, I’m not advocating removing it, that’s why we love touring cars. The trouble is, in this series it goes to another level. It was why I stopped attending races after 2008 and stopped watching the series altogether two years ago.

What isn’t acceptable is the continued practice of getting a nose inside and just pushing the guy on the outside, into the gravel. The worst offenders are the biggest name drivers Jason Plato and Matt Neal, who are probably popular because they act a bit ‘bad boy’ on the track, pushing their way around. Most of the rest of the grid doesn’t go in for this type of thing, which is great to see.

I really did miss watching the series so I have actually started watching the races I missed from 2010 and 2011, and I’ve been laughing at some of the post-race quotes. Someone like Onslow-Cole or Shedden would come on, standing next to someone like Matt Neal, and say right in front of him: ‘Well I could’ve easily had him off, but that’s not the way I like to race.’ Even though the guy next to him had already done it to someone else that day. Ha!

I make this point because I’d really hoped the series would’ve clamped down on it by now. They haven’t. Newcomer and polesitter Dave Newsham, underdog hero of the day, was unceremoniously dumped off track into the Paddock Hill gravel by Plato. Penalty? A £750 fine and 3 points on his racing licence. Hardly any penalty at all. I haven’t seen the most recent rounds at Donington Park this past weekend, I understand it stepped up another level with cars off left, right and centre.

Perhaps the more frustrating thing is that both Plato and Neal come across as really nice guys (even when they are complaining about the technical rules!), it isn’t as if they are utter evil bastards, they are merely taking advantage of the series not clamping down on certain actions – they do it because they get away with it. Still, it provokes discussion and ratings and the crowd at any BTCC meeting at every track I visit has always cheered the loudest when Plato wins, so he must be doing something right.

Supports

One of the hallmarks and attractions of the TOCA/BTCC package has long been the plentiful support card. This is again true this year. It was a touch weaker compared to past times, with the closure of FBMW UK a few years ago and the sad failure of FRenault UK this past winter, which is by far the bigger loss for British motorsport being the traditional feeder into British Formula 3. A disgraceful loss and I don’t understand how it was allowed to happen, I really do hope something is done to resurrect it for 2013. FRUK offered the chance for up and coming drivers to make a name for themselves in front of a big crowd on live TV, I doubt the many other FR 2.0 series in Europe offer the same.

Despite being two races down the day was still full of action, there was barely 10 or 15 minutes of dead track all day (excluding the lunch break and red flags). A collection of Renault Clio Cup, Porsche Carrera Cup and both big and Junior variants of Ginettas kept the crowd entertained all day long. Hard to believe they let 14 and 15 year olds loose in the Juniors!

Back For Good

Despite the poor driving standards I still love the BTCC. Everything about the day was perfect and I’m sad I was away for so long. The feeling was just as it was a decade ago. There’s an intangible atmosphere at a BTCC meeting you just don’t get when you visit other series. I don’t know if it is the wheel-to-wheel racing, the near-constant track action from a collection of short, sharp races, or the fact it is our big home-grown success story with passionate fans filling the banks and stands all the way around the track. There’s something about a BTCC meeting you just can’t beat. And I didn’t even buy a paddock pass this time!

I’ll be back. See you at Silverstone? (I’m wondering if I made the right choice in booking Silverstone). I’m tempted to go to Thruxton.. but we’ll see about that. Just maybe, funds depending, I’ll go back to Brands Hatch for the race on the GP circuit later in the year.